New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe

It’s been four years since Hyundai introduced its Genesis coupe at the 2008 New York Auto Show, unabashedly presenting it as an alternative to not only obvious competitors like the Ford Mustang but also luxury coupes like the Infiniti G37. The Genesis coupe’s key feature, of course, was its rear-wheel-drive chassis, a relative rarity among affordable cars in general and virtually unheard of from a Korean manufacturer. In fact, the only other inexpensive, rear-wheel-drive car from an Asian manufacturer back in 2009, when the Genesis coupe actually went on sale, was the Mazda Miata roadster, if we take the slightly-out-of-reach Mazda RX-8 and Nissan 370Z out of the equation.

When we drove the Genesis coupe in mid-2009 at a media preview, we were pretty impressed with Hyundai’s efforts. After thrashing both turbo four-cylinder and naturally aspirated V-6 models around a racetrack, we concluded: “Regardless of which flavor you choose or modifications you install, there’s plenty about the Genesis coupe to like. It’s an affordable, attractive sports coupe, with the unique appeal of rear-wheel drive.” In subsequent drives of the Genesis coupe at our editorial office, Automobile Magazine editors found plenty to like but also lots to gripe about. Generally speaking, we concluded that ride comfort (especially in models with the optional track package), interior trim quality, overall refinement, and the power delivery and NVH characteristics of the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, in particular, were lacking. So, although we loved the idea of the Genesis coupe—a rear-wheel-drive sporty car for the common man, an all-too-rare commodity—we thought the common man deserved more. “Here’s one Hyundai that needs some more polishing,” was a typical comment from our 2009 reviews.

For 2013, the Genesis coupe has indeed been polished and primped both inside and outside, but it also gets a powertrain pump-up that takes this mid-cycle face-lift beyond the analogous level of a quick Botox treatment. Both the standard 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder and the 3.8-liter V-6 see major increases in power, and the previous five- and six-speed automatics have been jettisoned for a Hyundai-designed eight-speed automatic. The six-speed manual returns but has been modified. Here are the relevant stats:

  • The 2.0-liter Theta four-cylinder engine adopts a twin-scroll turbocharger and a larger intercooler to boost horsepower to 274 hp, from 210 hp, and torque to 275 lb-ft, from 223 lb-ft, on premium fuel. Regular gasoline delivers 260 hp and 260 lb-ft. Fuel economy is up marginally, to 20/31 city/highway with the eight-speed automatic, versus 20/30 before.
  • The 3.8-liter Lambda V-6 adds direct injection to boost its output from 306 to 348 hp and from 266 lb-ft to 295 lb-ft, on premium fuel. Those numbers fall to 344 hp and 292 lb-ft on regular fuel. Fuel economy figures are now up 1 mpg in both city and highway ratings, at 18/28 city/highway, and Hyundai claims a top speed of 149 mph.

Each engine is offered in four different models, for a total of only eight trim levels and a $10,000 price spread. The prices we’ve listed here include $875 freight charge. The previous 2.0T Track trim has been dropped, but the R-Spec has all of the track-related goodies.

  • 2.0T, 6-speed manual, $25,125
  • 2.0T, 8-speed auto, $26,375
  • 2.0T R-Spec, 6-speed manual only, $27,375
  • 2.0T Premium, 8-speed auto only, $29,625
  • 3.8 R-spec, 6-speed manual only, $29,625
  • 3.8 Grand Touring, 8-speed auto only, $32,875
  • 3.8 Track, 6-speed manual, $33,875
  • 3.8 Track, 8-speed auto, $35,125

It’s the four-cylinder Genesis that has benefitted the most from this mid-cycle freshening. We climbed into a 2.0T Premium model and set off along the Las Vegas Strip, onto the freeway, and then into the foothills of the nearby mountains. The engine can still be a little raspy if you really cane it, but in normal daily driving, it’s now quite an agreeable powertrain. Shifts are quick and precise, and the steady stream of torque from 2000 to 4500 rpm makes it easy to dart through traffic, accelerate down on-ramps, and ascend through the mountainous roads leading west out of Vegas without having to crank the stereo to mask engine noise. The shift paddles are well placed and bang off gearchanges with aplomb, but there’s no throttle blipping on downshifts. Hyundai officials allow that this feature is likely to appear in due time.

The damper-strut front and multi-link rear suspension setup carries over with only minor tweaks, namely retuned front dampers aimed at improving ride quality. Did it work? Hard to say, and we’ll withhold judgment until we can sample a Genesis coupe on the mean streets of Michigan. Because although Nevada might not have a great economy, it has nice, smooth roads, with nary a pothole to be found. For now, we can report that the Genesis has well-controlled body motions and a compliant if not particularly creamy ride, especially on its stock eighteen-inch all-season tires. In other words, it seems much improved.

When you’re relatively new to the sports car game, which Hyundai most definitely still is, you tend to fixate on numbers more than nuances. And so Hyundai proudly boasts that the 3.8-liter V-6 produces more horsepower than either the Infiniti G37’s V-6 or the BMW 335i coupe’s turbo inline six. That’s nice, but what the 3.8-liter Genesis coupe really contributes to sporty motoring is an amazing soundtrack. A so-called “sound generator” consists of a pipe that links an air duct in the intake area to the passenger-side foot well. As the revs rise, the cabin is filled with a honking baritone soundtrack that makes you want to mash the throttle, downshift, and repeat. Very cool, and exactly right for the target market.

Hyundai took us to Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Pahrump, Nevada, so we could fling the Genesis coupe around a tight, technical handling track that’s carved into the desert scrub. This was also an opportunity to showcase the Brembo brakes, limited-slip diff, staggered, 19-inch Bridgestone RE050A performance rubber, and other modifications that are part and parcel of the R-Spec and Track models. As was the case back in 2009, the Genesis coupe is well up to the rigors of track duty, with precise if uncommunicative steering, fade-resistant brakes (with the Brembos), and a chassis that’s eager to dance. This time around, it’s not just the 3.8-liter V-6 model that races enthusiastically to its redline; the reinvigorated four-cylinder is equally happy to be thrashed. So, thrash we did.

The Genesis still understeers resolutely in tight turns, so you learn to back off the throttle and feather the car through. Bigger, wider corners are far more fun: the limited-slip rear diff comes beautifully into play, and you might start imagining yourself as a skilled drifter. Or not. The manual transmission’s improved clutch pedal take-up is usefully fluid, but the gear shifter itself is still a little notchy and vague, and it’s still a challenge to heel-and-toe smoothly. We had repeated issues with the three-two downshift, and we attribute that as much to the hardware as to our hamfistedness. All in all, though, the Genesis coupe gets around a track quite well for a car that weighs roughly 3350 to 3550 lb, depending on model and equipment.

Which brings us to the subject of weight. The Genesis coupe has lots of it, and the new Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S, cars that were just a glimmer in Fuji Heavy Industries’ eye back in 2008, don’t. Which brings us back to the convergence of numbers and nuance. The lightweight (well under 3000 lb), minimalist, low-powered BRZ and FR-S have the finely nuanced manners of true sports cars, while the Genesis coupe, for all its charms, simply doesn’t.

What the Genesis does have, though, is style in spades (note the completely redesigned front end, replete with a new hood stamping); lots of equipment (the revised cabin is much more pleasant than before and far more luxurious than that of the BRZ/FR-S); and, of course, lots of raw power. Subaru/Scion and Hyundai have approached the notion of affordable, rear-wheel-drive performance cars in completely different ways, and both are legitimate. Rather than debate their relative merits, we’ll celebrate the fact that all three of these cars will soon be available to the average American car enthusiast.

2013 Hyundai Genesis coupe

On sale: Spring 2012
Base price range: $25,125-$35,125
Engines: Turbocharged 2.0L 4-in-line, 274 hp, 275 lb-ft; 3.8L V-6, 348 hp, 295 lb-ft
Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 8-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel
EPA Mileage, automatic transmission: 20/31 mpg (4-cyl), 18/28 mpg (6-cyl)